A year ago, the Blackhawks were clear sellers going into the NHL trade deadline because of what they had and where they were at in the standings. They shipped out Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels, and collected future assets in the form of draft picks and prospects.
This year was different. Very different, to the point where they left the roster as currently constructed by the 2 p.m. deadline.
"A couple things were on the borderline of happening, but at the end of the day we weren't determined to make a trade just to make you guys happy," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. "It had to make sense for where we're at, both short term and long term, and nothing came together."
The Blackhawks weren't in a position where they could be true buyers or sellers. They were right in the middle. But they weren't necessarily quiet on deadline day because they felt stuck in between. They want to start building the roster back up and accumulating pieces that could help now but also in the bigger picture, similar to the two trades they made earlier in the season in acquiring Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula. And nothing materialized.
So what's next for the Blackhawks?
While it was an uneventful trade deadline day, that doesn't figure to be the case this summer. The Blackhawks are expected to have north of $15 million in cap space, and that could increase even more depending on whether or not they shed additional contracts and how much the ceiling goes up. It's a big opportunity for the Blackhawks to speed up the process in a deep free-agent class.
"That's part of it," Bowman said. "Reshaping your team doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. It's not one or two moves. I think the process has begun already with some of the trades that we have made. You look back at where we were four months ago to the team we have now, and some things have changed for the better.
"We've really got two pretty reliable consistent offensive lines. Some of those guys — Caggiula wasn't here and he's been a nice addition, and same thing with Strome. Those moves have already happened. We're going to probably look at reshaping our team through potential trades between now and next season, as well as free agency. Those are the two ways as well as players graduating from junior to the American League or the American League to the NHL."
The Blackhawks are also excited about who they have in the pipeline that could push for full-time roster spots next season. Henri Jokiharju is in Rockford right now, but top defensemen prospects Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell could also be on the way soon and make the competition interesting.
Clearly, there aren't enough spots for everyone and they're not likely to all be broken in at once. But that's a good problem to have, and gives the Blackhawks options in several different areas.
"Having too many players, I've never been concerned about that," Bowman said. "I would much rather have lots of options. Because when you do, then you can use them to fill in the gaps somewhere else. If we got too many guys coming and they're all going to help our team, I would take that position any day. So that's not a bad thing."
The results have finally come around for the Blackhawks on a more consistent basis. There are certainly still some holes to fill, but they're getting a lot of what they had hoped would happen from last season: Bounce-back seasons from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, a big next step for Alex DeBrincat, the emergence of Dylan Strome and a nice find in Collin Delia.
Now there's a desire to start adding around to the pieces they have in place. But there's no definitive timeline on when they hope to be Stanley Cup contenders again.
"The goal is to keep progressing year to year, so a year from now we want to be in a better spot than we are now," Bowman said. "Where that is in the standings, I don't know. We're not trying to map it out that precisely, other than to say we want to be in a better spot than we are today, and the same thing for the year after that. We're headed in the right direction for sure. The timing on how all of that happens, there's a lot of factors. It's hard to predict it. But we want to be a team that's in a better spot a year from now than we are now."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.